January 14, 2015

Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals to Overcome Addiction

As I mentioned in my previous post, the New Year is a great time to look at setting goals to overcome addiction. I suggested that one way to work on overcoming addiction is to replace that addiction with other activities. I’m not a clinical psychologist or expert on behavioral science, but in my experience, it can be helpful to evaluate these three aspects of your life when making goals: social, physical, and mental/emotional.

By looking at each of these areas, you can evaluate what you must do to combat the multi-faceted burden caused by your addiction.

When setting goals in those three areas, it is important to not place the stakes too high or think too broadly. Your goal doesn’t necessarily have to be “I’m going to be a better person,” or even “I’m going to stop drinking.” Instead, make it, “I’m going to replace my drinking problem with a daily glass of protein powder and three sets of dumbbells.” You may find that by focusing on the one area, you don’t have to think about the other.

The oft-used acronym for making S.M.A.R.T. goals can help you in this. What setting a goal, ask yourself, is it…

Specific: Is it something concrete that you can act on every day? Don’t make a goal to “quit smoking.” Though quitting might be your overall intent, instead, say, “I will drink a glass of grape juice every time I crave a cigarette.” (The taste of a cigarette after drinking grape juice is said to be awful, helping people develop an aversion to the habit).

Measurable: Can you put a numeric value to your goal? Can you say you’ve been free from your iPhone games for x number of days? Measurement is key to understanding how well you are accomplishing your goal.

Attainable: Is it something that you can actually do? If your goal is to overcome addiction by becoming an Olympic gymnast, by all means do it, but make sure you first have the physical capacity and financial security to go that far. Try to simplify this year and go bigger the following year.

Realistic: Are you willing to put forth the effort to accomplish the goal? Are you truly invested in replacing your addiction? If you don’t want to work at being a runner, than choose something more realistic.

Timely: Can you do it by the end of the year? Can you take accountability for your goal each day, week, or month?

If your goals meet these requirements, then they’re probably good goals. Remember, the small steps are the ones that lead to the big changes. You’d be surprised at what you can do.

For example, a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to be more active in the outdoors, instead of indulging in the habitual video games. I set a goal on New Years Day to hike for at least six miles every week. It was nothing too big, but, busy with work and school, it was hard. Over time, as my body became more and more fit each day, I ended up going on extended expeditions. The highlight of my goal was a trip to Greenland and Iceland, where I hiked over a hundred miles in the Arctic. Had I not made my small goal of hiking every day, I would have never had the chance to walk through the amazing tundra and the polar ice cap.

I’m convinced that if you just set up a series of small objectives, you can accomplish far more than focusing on killing the big, looming monster of your addiction.

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